The "Shutdown Countdown" is going full steam ahead. In addition to previewing each team, "Shutdown Corner" will be taking a brief look at each team's salary cap situation heading into the 2013 season and beyond. We continue the series with the Indianapolis Colts.
2013 Adjusted Cap Number: $124.41 million (9th-lowest in the NFL in 2013)
2013 Cap Room Remaining: $6.935 million (18th-most in the NFL, as of July 21) The Colts still have to sign first-round linebacker Bjoern Werner, who will have a first-year cap charge of $1,435,709. Once Werner is factored into the "Top 51" calculation, the Colts will be $6 million under their adjusted cap figure.
Salary Cap Quirk: We're adding this entry to the Colts' salary cap outlook to draw attention to Gosder Cherilus' contract. The right tackle signed a five-year, $35 million contract that included $16 million in guaranteed money on March 14. On paper, Cherilus will earn $15.5 million in cash this season, including a $5.5 million base salary. However, Cherilus only has a $3.9 million cap number this season.
How can that be? Well, Cherilus' contract is not structured the way free agent contracts usually are.
Instead of a signing bonus plus low base salaries that gradually or substantially increase in each year of the contract, Cherilus' base salary decreases from $5.5 million in 2013 to $1 million in 2014. As a result, a "50 percent down" rule in the CBA decreases the cap charge of the first-year base salary by the difference between the Year 1 and Year 2 base salaries. In this case, that amount is $4.5 million, which according to Article 13, Section 6(iii)(5) of the CBA, is treated as a signing bonus and will be prorated (at $900,000 per season) against the cap over the next five seasons. As a result of the funky contract structure, Cherilus' cap number is $3.6 million lower than the $7.5 million figure that his signing bonus and base salary suggest it should be.
Best Bargain: Inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman was an outstanding find by the general manager Ryan Grigson. Freeman went undrafted out of (football factory) Mary Hardin-Baylor and was an All-Star for the CFL's Saskatchewan Roughriders before signing a three-year, $1.46 million contract with the Colts that contained $20,000 in guaranteed money in January of 2012. Freeman not only earned a starting job, he would play in 98.67 percent of the defensive snaps, lead the Colts with 145 tackles, post seven tackles for a loss, add two sacks and return his one interception for a touchdown. Freeman is expected to remain in an every-down role for the Colts and will earn just $480,000 in base salary in 2013. Freeman's $486,667 cap hit ranks 240th among current NFL linebacker contracts.
Potential Camp Cap Casualty: In the Football Outsiders Almanac 2013, 2009 first-round pick Donald Brown is compared, unfavorably, to a Mogwai (the creature from "Gremlins", not the Scottish rock band. And in the interest of full disclosure: I wrote Brown's player comment). Brown's inability to solidify himself as "The Man" in the Colts' backfield comes at a time when the team is placing an emphasis on protecting Andrew Luck and has hired an offensive coordinator (Pep Hamilton) who will involve running backs in the passing game. Neither of those are areas of the game that Brown is adept at, which puts him behind Ahmad Bradshaw and Vick Ballard on the depth chart. Barring an injury to one or both of the players ahead of him, Brown and his $1.705 million base salary may not be with the Colts when they host the Oakland Raiders on Sept. 8.
Looming Contract Issue: The Colts were unable to reach agreement on a multi-year extension with punter/kickoff specialist Pat McAfee, which seemed odd because his market appeared to be set. Recent players with his skill-set signed deals averaging between $3.25 million to $4 million per season with $6.5 million to $7 million in guaranteed money.
A second franchise tag in 2014 — which is a distinct possibility given the rest of the team's projected unrestricted free agents — would be worth $3,572,400. If McAfee were to play out next season under the franchise tag, he would have earn $6.5494 million over those two seasons, which really makes the Colts' decision to not extend his contract this offseason a puzzling one.
Long-Term Cash/Cap Outlook: The Colts carried around $40 million in "dead" money in 2012 and have over $8 million in "dead" money (including $4.8 million on Gary Brackett) on their 2013 cap. That's not the case for 2014, where there's little "dead" money and the "Top 51" contracts currently total $89.25 million. Even if the cap remains flat at $123 million, the Colts are in position to be active in free agency and/or could start building a "carryover amount" war chest for the future.
Previous salary cap outlooks
32. Oakland Raiders
31. Jacksonville Jaguars
30. Arizona Cardinals
29. Buffalo Bills
28. Cleveland Browns
27. Tennessee Titans
26. Kansas City Chiefs
25. New York Jets
24. San Diego Chargers
23. Philadelphia Eagles
22. Miami Dolphins
21. St. Louis Rams
20. Minnesota Vikings
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
18. Dallas Cowboys
17. Detroit Lions
16. Pittsburgh Steelers